Chapter no 30

Sorcery of Thorns

WHEN ELISABETH REACHED the study, she drew up short, squinting through the smoke that 1lled the room. Her blood ran cold as she took in the scene. The Codex hovered several inches above Nathaniel’s desk, its pages fanned out, splayed at such a hideous angle that it risked breaking its own spine. Embers danced along the edges of the pages, and the cover’s leather bubbled like boiling tar.

Nathaniel appeared next to her, his shirt pulled over his nose to block out the smoke. “It looks like it’s being tortured.”

That was precisely what Elisabeth feared. “I have to go in,” she said, starting toward the grimoire.

He caught her arm. “Wait. We have no idea what’s happening. You could get trapped in there.”

His face was pale. Regret pierced her like a blade. She would give anything to reverse time, to be back upstairs with him, her troubles far away.

“You’re right, but we have no other option. If Ashcroft is torturing Frendergast, I must stop him, or at least try.”

He opened his mouth to object, but she didn’t hear what he said. She had already reached out and taken hold of the Codex, its cover searing her hand like a hot iron even through the bandages, and the world was spinning away.

She appeared in Frendergast’s workshop with a stumble, almost slipping on the wet Aoorboards underfoot. The room looked as though it had been through an earthquake. The table lay overturned on its side; cracks splintered the ceiling beams. A tremor shook the dimension, and jars slid down the buckled shelves and shattered, spilling their slimy contents across the Aoor.

And this time, she hadn’t come alone. Nathaniel’s hand gripped her arm. Silas stood beside him, holding his wrist in turn. They exchanged looks.

Either Frendergast had let them in on purpose, or he was no longer able to keep them out.

“Oh, wonderful,” Frendergast said weakly. “More visitors. Forgive me for not getting up and oPering you tea.”

He lay crumpled on the Aoor between the leaning shelves, as though someone had thrown him there like a discarded rag. Elisabeth dove to his side. His complexion was the color of porridge, his face contorted with pain.

“What happened?” she asked. “Where’s Ashcroft?”

Frendergast dissolved into a 1t of coughing. When he recovered, he gasped, “You’ve just missed him. We had a delightful chat.” Elisabeth bit back her frustration as more coughs wracked his thin frame. “Help me sit up, girl,” he panted at last. “That’s it. I want to see what he’s done to my . . . oh.” He fell silent. She followed his ga>e. Across the room, embers smoldered along the broken edges of the Aoorboards, exactly like the Codex’s pages. Ashes swirled away into the void.

“The dimension is collapsing,” Nathaniel provided for Elisabeth’s bene1t, coming into view. “We can’t stay here long. A few minutes at best.”

Frendergast’s eyes widened. “You. You’re a Thorn.” He turned to Elisabeth and spat, “Are you mad, bringing someone like him along? Have you any idea who he is?”

Nathaniel tensed. ReAexively, he ran a hand through his hair—trying to make the silver streak less visible, she reali>ed. “You weren’t a friend of Baltasar’s, I take it.”

Frendergast sneered. “Certainly not, demons take him. Those of us with any sense stayed as far away from him as we could. Even Cornelius wouldn’t touch him. And you’re the spitting image of him, boy.”

Nathaniel looked sick. Elisabeth couldn’t let this go on. “We need to know what happened,” she interrupted. “Is Ashcroft coming back? I don’t see why he would have left, unless . . .”

She trailed oP. Frendergast wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Unless you told him your secret,” she 1nished.

“In my defense,” he said, “pain is considerably more persuasive when one hasn’t felt it in hundreds of years.” He shrank from Elisabeth’s expression.

“What did you tell him? We need to know!”

“If you think I am going to allow the truth to fall into the hands of a Thorn—”

“It doesn’t matter! It’s over!” She resisted the urge to shake him until his teeth rattled. “All of this, everything you’ve done”—she waved at the workshop—“will have been for nothing if you don’t help us. Nathaniel is here to stop Ashcroft. Whether you believe that or not, you’re almost out of time. This is your last chance to make things right.”

Frendergast’s head hung. His mouth twisted into a grimace. Several seconds passed, and then he seemed to come to a decision. “Watch closely,” he instructed sourly. “I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

He yanked six rings from his gaunt 1ngers. While Elisabeth and Nathaniel watched, perplexed, he started arranging them on the ground. Understanding dawned as he set the 1nal ring in place. The shape was as familiar to Elisabeth as the back of her own hand. One ring in the center, the 1ve others spread around it to form an evenly spaced circle.

“What pattern have I made?” he asked.

“The Great Libraries,” Elisabeth answered, at the same time Nathaniel said, with equal certainty, “A pentagram.”

Silence fell.

Elisabeth looked again, more closely this time. In her mind’s eye she drew lines between each of Frendergast’s rings, connecting them to create a star inside the circle. The shape mas a pentagram. But it was also a map of the Great Libraries. It was both.

Dread slammed into her, knocking the air from her lungs. “Counterclockwise,” she whispered. When Nathaniel looked at her, she said, “Something has been bothering me all day, ever since Katrien’s map arrived. I know what it is now. The attacks on the Great Libraries are occurring counterclockwise. Knockfeld, Summershall, Fettering, Fairwater. Then Harrows. The pattern reminded me of when I lit the candles for Silas’s summoning.”

“Go on, girl.” Frendergast’s dark eyes glittered. “You’re almost there.” She turned to him and said, “Cornelius built the Great Libraries.” “Yes. He constructed them to form a summoning circle.”

Elisabeth’s mind reeled. She wondered, distantly, if she might be ill. She didn’t want to believe Frendergast. If he was telling the truth, the Collegium

had been founded on the darkest lie imaginable. Her own life, a lie. The magic that Aowed through her veins, the beauty and majesty of the Great Libraries—could it all have been for this?

She spoke haltingly, stumbling onward. “The Male1cts—Ashcroft intended for them to be defeated, didn’t he? That’s the point of the sabotage. He’s using them in place of candles.”

Frendergast nodded. “A ritual this si>e calls for more than wick and wax. When a Male1ct is destroyed, it unleashes a vast amount of demonic energy. Fosition a sacri1ce of that nature at each point of a pentagram, and one ends up with sufficient power to breach the veil for a greater summoning.”

Elisabeth’s nails dug into her palms. Once more she felt the ePort of driving Demonslayer into the Book of Eyes, saw the gouts of ink pour forth as she twisted the blade. A crucial part of Ashcroft’s plan, carried out by her own hands.

“But mhy?” Nathaniel broke in. “Why create such a large circle? Ordinary pentagrams work perfectly well. There’s no reason he could possibly . . .” He paused, his narrowed eyes boring into Frendergast. “Ashcroft needed something from you before he could complete the ritual. What was it?”

Frendergast returned Nathaniel’s glare. Animosity darkened his features. “A name. That’s what I’ve been guarding all these years.”

“A name,” Nathaniel echoed Aatly.

“You know of lesser demons, 1ends and goblins and so on, the lowest subjects of demonic society. And you know of the highborn demons who rule them, like your demon there. But the highborn are ruled by something else in turn. On the Otherworld’s throne sits a being of almost limitless power—a creature called an Archon.”

Both Nathaniel and Elisabeth turned to Silas. His face was as inscrutable as a marble carving, but his yellow eyes, 1xed upon Frendergast, seemed to glow with a cold inner light. Almost imperceptibly, he nodded. Frendergast was telling the truth.

A humorless smile twisted Frendergast’s mouth. “Cornelius and I were close friends, or so I thought. I told him of my travels in the Otherworld. We theori>ed that the Archon’s true name could be used to summon it, supposing a sorcerer could assemble a ritual equal to the task, which I did not believe possible. For years, the matter never rose again between us. Then, one

day, he asked me for the Archon’s name. By then he had already begun building the Great Libraries. When I reali>ed what he was planning, and refused to tell him, he Aew into a rage. Until that moment, I believe he truly expected me to help him. He viewed the Archon as a resource, something that could be harnessed and controlled for the betterment of mankind 

“Frogress,” Elisabeth murmured. How ignorant she had been, they all had been, raising their glasses in praise of Ashcroft’s plan.

“Arrogance,” Frendergast corrected. “There is no controlling a being like the Archon. Yet Cornelius’s heir is going to attempt the summoning. Tonight.”

She looked to Silas. “What will happen if he succeeds?”

“If the Archon is permitted to enter your realm, its power will destroy the veil that separates our worlds.” Silas’s lips thinned. “Demons will run free, slaughtering your kind with abandon.”

She stood so quickly that the blood rushed from her head. “We must stop him,” she said, glancing to Nathaniel in appeal. The hopelessness she saw in his eyes sent a jolt through her stomach.

“Even the full strength of the Magisterium would take hours to breach Ashcroft’s wards. We don’t have that much time. He’ll have 1nished the ritual by then.”

“Then you go directly to Harrows,” Frendergast said, “and prevent the 1nal sacri1ce.”

“But it’s a three-day journey,” Elisabeth protested.

“Not necessarily.” Frendergast gripped the nearest shelf and wrenched himself to his feet. He staggered deeper between the broken shelves, trailing his 1ngers along the jars, skulls, and books that lay tumbled along them. Finally he dragged out a chain, on the end of which hung an onyx stone. No, not a stone—a round crystal vial, 1lled with blood.

“I alone discovered the means by which to travel between dimensions, to fold reality like a tapestry, joining one location to another. The magic lives on in my blood. Since I no longer possess a true physical form, this is the 1nal sample remaining.” Bitterness warped his mouth. “And here I am, about to hand it over to a Thorn.”

Elisabeth couldn’t stand the mistrust etched across his face. “Nathaniel isn’t Baltasar,” she blurted out. “I swear to you, he’s diPerent.”

Frendergast gave her a sour look. “There is enough blood to transport the three of you to Harrows and back.” He threw the vial to Nathaniel, who caught it one-handed, startled. “Use it carefully, boy. It will exact a toll.”

As Nathaniel ducked his head through the chain, Frendergast limped away. He set a chair upright and then leveled a bleak stare at the overturned table. Elisabeth lifted it back into place for him, even knowing her ePorts wouldn’t do any good. The embers had eaten away another several feet of the Aoorboards. In minutes, the section they were standing on would be consumed, and the table would topple into the void.

Another tremor shook the workshop. Wood groaned, and more jars smashed around them. Frendergast’s 1ngers spasmed on the chair’s backrest.

“What about you?” she asked. “Can we take you with us?”

He shook his head. Slowly, as though every joint ached, he eased himself into the chair, facing the approaching darkness. “Go, girl,” he said in a rough voice. “My time is 1nished. Fray that yours meets a better end.”

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